I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a smørrebrød today

Back from this very interesting conference on homological stability at the University of Copenhagen.  First time in Denmark.

Two things that struck me — or rather, in a sense, one thing that struck me twice — a kind of relaxedness about money.  I wanted to rent a bike to see the city a bit on the conference half-day, but ended up only having an hour or so free.  I found a bike shop that offered daily bike rentals and asked if they rented by the hour; the proprietor said, don’t worry about it, just leave your driver’s license here and take the bike and we won’t charge you.

The next day, I stopped at the smørrebrød shop to get my morning smørrebrød, but was out of Danish cash, and found that my PIN-less US credit card was no good there.  And again, I got “don’t worry about it” — just take your smørrebrød now, said the smørrebrød-maker, and come back and pay me tomorrow.  Which is what I did.

Unthinkable behavior for a shop in the United States, or am I wrong?

Re bikes and smørrebrød:

  • Copenhagen is the only place I’ve ever seen where the dream of bikes as an equal part of traffic seems to be a reality.  It’s a true pleasure.  Also, my stereotype that Europeans don’t wear helmets isn’t quite right; I’d say about a quarter of the riders were helmeted, including lots of young, hip-looking people.
  • Smørrebrød!   They are little open-faced sandwiches on which you can put almost anything.  I got them for breakfast every morning and ate them as I walked to the university, even though I think eating smørrebrød at 8am and eating while walking in general are somewhat non-Danish things to do.  They served raw beef smørrebrød at the conference reception but for breakfast I didn’t go so wild; my favorite was the frikadeller, a meatball with a kind of creamy dill sauce on it.  There is a very enthusiastic smørrebrød blog  where you can learn more.  Also, Copenhagen’s most famous smørrebrød house now has an outpost in New York.

Update:  Hey, I should at least give the generous Danish shopkeepers credit by name!  The excellent smørrebrød I ate every morning were from Madmanden on Classensgade.  And the folks who let me borrow their bike free were at Cykelsmeden on Nørregade.

Via NPR, some smørrebrød:

11 thoughts on “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a smørrebrød today

  1. Adam says:

    Danish reader here: Yeah, eating smørrebrød for breakfast seems quite weird to a Dane – usually it is a lunch thing (and less elaborate than the ones pictured above).

    In Sweden they have a layered “cake” consisting of layers smørrebrød – maybe something to try when you get to Sweden (this is weird to Danes as well, but Swedes insist it is delicious).

    I am happy to hear about the money and the biking, at least we’ve got those things going for us. I think Holland has the same level of biking-as-a-normal-transportation-mode-in-cities :-)

    I never wear a helmet when riding a bike, but lots of people younger/older than me do (I’m 40).

    (Some conspiracy theorists even claim the bike helmet is supported by the car industry to make biking seem more dangerous than it is. The only accidents I have had was the front mudguard coming loose and blocking the wheel – and never hit my head flying over the handlebars…)

  2. Andrei C. says:

    I think this relaxed attitude about money comes from a) a large fraction of the population being “nice”, which is probably a societal factor; and b) most people being reasonably well-off.

    It’s similar to how people in Madison leave houses, cars, bikes, etc. unlocked.

    And I did have a nasty fall which would have had bad consequences had I not been wearing a helmet. So now I wear one religiously. And Bonn was pretty close to biking heaven too.

  3. NDE says:

    Have you been to Holland/Netherlands? Bikes have right of way higher than *both* motor vehicles and pedestrians!

  4. JSE says:

    Andrei: Oh yeah, also I meant to observe that lots of bikes in Copenhagen are left at bikestands unlocked! I would never do that in Madison — do you think it’s actually common here?

  5. Richard Séguin says:

    Andrei: I would NOT leave a house, car, or bicycle unlocked in Madison. There are frequent bicycle thefts, especially in the campus area, and break-ins and walk-ins in houses are not unheard of. Walk-in thefts have happened to neighbors of mine. Madison is not Mayberry.

    NDE: Why would bikes have right of way higher than pedestrians? That doesn’t make sense to me.

  6. Brian says:

    The Victory is a cash-only cafe on the East side of Madison, and tells unfamiliar patrons who only have cards to enjoy their coffee, and pay for it the next time they stop in.

  7. Noah Snyder says:

    Were the bikes really unlocked? Or were they just not locked to anything. (Most European bikes require a key to unlock the back wheel. Of course this doesn’t stop a determined thief, but most locks won’t stop a determined thief, and it does stop someone just walking off with it.)

    I got a “come back and pay me next time” both times I was at a neighborhood bodega for breakfast sandwiches and forgot money in New York. One of them I was a regular at, but the other was one of the first times I’d gone there (having stopped going to the first one after there was a roach in my sandwich).

  8. JMB says:

    I was also surprised to see people wearing helmets on my recent trip (missed you by a few weeks!). And I was told that the neither the kids nor the grown ups like to wear helmets, but amazingly the parents are sometimes able to convince the kinds to wear some kind of airbag helmets. Last, if you decide to drive over the bridge to Sweden to get some meatballs, be warned that the toll is about $70, each way.

  9. Martin says:

    Excellent post and as a Dane I hope other visitors come a way with an equally favourable impression of CPH. One small correction: While Aamans is justly well known, it cannot possibly claim the title as “Copenhagen’s most famous smørrebrød house”. That title safely belongs to “Ida Davidsen” at Store Kongensgade (http://www.idadavidsen.dk/en-gb/cms/Welcome).

  10. NDE says:

    Richard Séguin asks “Why would bikes have right of way higher than pedestrians? That doesn’t make sense to me.” I don’t know *why*, but when I was there for ANTS-4 in 2000 and rode a one-speed rental bike around Leiden not only cars/trucks at intersections but also pedestrians at crosswalks insisted that I go through first.

  11. Richard Séguin says:

    NDE: Do bicyclists obey traffic laws there? They don’t here in Madison, where stop signs and traffic lights seem to be invisible to them, and almost no one uses hand signals or even warns “passing on the left” anymore. A few years ago I saw a bicyclist in spandex zoom through a stop sign at high speed at a school crossing with small children present in the crosswalk and a very visible school crossing sign in the middle of the street. I yelled at the idiot to slow down and then he proceeded to zoom right through the next stop sign without flinching.

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